I had been planning on simply learning spoken Levantine Arabic in the car while focusing most of my time on Inuktitut. Pimsleur's premium subscription shows the written vocabulary words both in Arabic script and translated into Latin characters after you've completed an audio lesson, so of course I decided that I should learn the Arabic alphabet, which I have done over the past week thanks to the "Learn Arabic With Maha" YouTube channel.
And then I realized, oh no! This language is really cool and I like it a lot!
I was trying to watch one of Maha's six alphabet videos a day, but yesterday I watched the last two videos in one day, and then I was up late learning to touch-type in Arabic. That was also very good practice reading typed words, since they get scrunched up and they can look different from how I learned to hand-write them. I also have done the four alphabet lessons on Duolingo.
I thought to myself, it's too bad that I'm not studying Modern Standard Arabic now. And then I realized, wait, what's stopping me?
My main justification for studying Arabic now is that the time I spend on Arabic will also work as a down payment on Hebrew. Arabic avoids my main issues with both Modern and Biblical Hebrew.
Issues with Modern Hebrew:
- There are two many consonant mergers and silent consonants, so it's hard to remember how to write something.
- Hebrew has five phonemic vowels and no phonemic length, but the consonantal writing system only marks the three original long vowels (a, i, and u).
- There is an optional vowel marking system on top of that (not used in everyday life), but that was written in that medieval Tiberian dialect that had seven normal-length vowels (i, e, ɛ, a, ɔ, o, and u) and three ultra-short vowels (ə, a, and ɔ), so when you use that option you are basically using two alphabets that are incompatible with Modern Hebrew instead of just one.
- But, in this vowel marking system you mostly ignore the consonantal vowels since that length contrast was lost in the Tiberian dialect.
Learning the Tiberian pronunciation solves many but not all of these issues, but of course since Biblical Hebrew is no longer spoken and most of the reading material is 3,000-year-old Canaanite epic prose (and even harder, poetry), it's pretty tough to immerse yourself in it.
Arabic, on the other hand, is remarkably conservative compared to Ancient Hebrew. It retains the proto-Semitic system of three short and three long vowels, and it retains 28 of the 29 proto-Semitic consonants which each have their own letters, so you write it just like you say it and you say it just like you write it. There are two small complications that cancel out a bit:
- Short vowels are not written in everyday writing (but since there are only three it's easier to guess than Hebrew)
- Some of those short vowel sounds are apparently dropped in all but the most formal speech.
And on top of that, there is a ton of Modern Standard Arabic media I can immerse myself in and it has much better resources than Biblical Hebrew.
I'm planning on spending up to a year on Arabic (unless I get distracted and switch to something else before then, which is very likely).
At the end of a year (not necessarily consecutive), I would like to reach:
- A strong beginner level of MSA speech
- A strong beginner level of Levantine speech
- A good enough reading level to skim news headlines and blurbs and get the general idea
- A good level of understanding of the grammar
- A good base of vocabulary that will help me with other languages I am interested in
The grammar will be tough but I love studying grammar so that shouldn't be the hard part for me.
I'm having a surprisingly easy time with the writing system so far (except that Arabic fonts are always so heckin' tiny, what's up with that?) but we'll have to see how I do once the short vowels go away.
I think my biggest problem will be that I will need to learn a ton of vocabulary, which is my least favorite part of language learning (especially in languages with grammatical gender, which is the bane of my existence). But I know that the Arabic vocabulary I learn will not only help me with cognates in Hebrew, but also other languages such as Indonesian (one of my favorite languages!) as well as Turkish, Persian, Urdu, and Swahili if I end up spending time on them someday.
Below are the resources I plan on using. I am unlikely to get to everything in one go since I have a short attention span and don't tend to stick to any one language project for more than a few months.
- FSI Levantine Arabic Pronunciation: I'll want to finish this before I start Pimsleur. It should only take me a few weeks.
- Duolingo: I'm already almost done with the first checkpoint. The course doesn't seem to be that long. I don't know if there's another good interactive Arabic course out there, so I might get back to Structure of Inuktitut once my "sitting down at a computer to do a language lesson" time slot is freed up.
- Pimsleur: I'll plan on starting with Modern Standard Arabic (3 levels). Then if I'm still working on Arabic after I'm done with that, I'll switch to Eastern (3 levels) and then Egyptian (1 level). I may go back to Haitian Creole if I need a break from Arabic or as a palate cleanser between dialects.
- Ahlan wa Sahlan: I don't always use a real textbook but I think it will be necessary for Arabic. This was the one I chose. It has a preliminary workbook, a beginner textbook, and then an intermediate textbook, with plenty of multimedia to go with it. I'm starting with the workbook.
- Assimil L'arabe: I happen to already have a copy, but it would be competing for the "sitting down with a book before bed" time slot with Ahlan wa Sahlan. I think I will probably save Assimil for when I need a break from the textbook and want something light. If I'm feeling extremely motivated I may be able to double up and use both resources at once, but that seems unlikely.